How do You Learn to be Smooth Riders ?

Have you watched a top rider put in a really quick lap ? It looked unhurried, cool calm and collected with everything under control. And it was under control... just. Have you watched a back marker struggling to stay with the pack ? You can see the effort that’s going in, the late mega braking, the forks diving, the abrupt corner entry and exit, the wheelies away from the slower corners. See how fast the control changes are made and how the bike is right on the edge of getting away all the time ? So how come it’s slower ? Poor bike or poor rider ? Well it may not be the most competitive bike in the race, but one thing is for sure: put a Ben Spies or a Valentino Rossi in the saddle and it would be lapping several seconds quicker.

On the street or on the track, smooth is quicker and safer. If you over-ride, trying to go faster than your abilities, you will go slower as well as being a danger to yourself and everybody else. You see it every track day, at least one guy out to prove he is the next champ and making a total hash of it.

Smoothness on the street pays off too. Smooth keeps your bike nicely balanced, always ready to accept a change of speed or direction so enlarging your buffer zone and keeping your options open....

What makes smooth?

Think of a pendulum or a child on a swing. Can you see exactly when the upswing stops or the downswing starts? Not really, because the transitions are so smooth. Yet it can be going at a good lick when it goes through the bottom of the arc. This pendulum effect is what you are aiming for each time you :

- Go on and off the brakes
- Go into and out of a turn
- Accelerate
- MOST IMPORTANT – change your mind halfway through a maneuver

It’s the last one that’s hardest to learn. Moves you planned in advance can be smoothed out with a bit of practice. Reactive moves – like having to change line mid-corner to avoid an obstruction are the difficult ones.

How do You Learn to be Smooth ?

I’m going to tell you a secret... To be slow at the ends you must be quick in the middle. If you try to smooth out the riding you are doing now, you will start braking earlier for corners, ease into and out of the turn and take your time getting going down the straight. Smooth but slow. Not the way to make quick adjustments. Learn to brake hard ! Yeah,I mean 1g+. I already told you about this in previous article.

Learn to snap in and out of corners. Pushing the bike down and heaving it out of corners in a hurry takes extra effort at speed. Learn to do this by finding the counter-steering and body steer techniques you are comfortable with that allow you to virtually throw your bike in and out of turns. Accelerating fast seems to come naturally to most bikers ! Points to watch are being in the right gear, mastering clutchless up-shifts and moving your weight forward to counter wheelies.

Does this look like the complete opposite of smooth? It will sure feel that way as you learn. But you can and will master these things. Then, you start working on smooth.

Move to Smooth Part 1

Pick a familiar corner. Use your old familiar approach speed, braking point and entry point. Smooth your braking by progressively squeezing the binders on until you are braking harder than you normally do. When you know you have overbraked, ease off the brakes to arrive at your entry point will no brake at all. Bet you found you were overbraked earlier than you expected. Surprising how much difference a bit of extra stopper makes.

Ride the corner in the old way. See how much time and distance it takes you to get into and out of the turn. How does it compare with what you can do now if you throw the machine into the curve ? Next time try the turn with your best snap in/out style. Quick, but maybe not so smooth. Now smooth out your snaps ; think of the swing and try to roll into and out of your snaps. This does not come easy. But keep at it because you are building a key skill for road and track.

Concentrate on smoothing the end of the snap first. It is important not to overshoot and wobble at the end of these moves so as to keep the bike settled and stable. Starting a snap smoothly is actually easier to master, but you can’t give it your full attention until you are 100% comfortable with ending the snap smoothly. When you have had a bit of practice, watch other good riders and ask them for tips. Styles vary, for example some riders use a lot more body steer than others. So, don’t copy what doesn’t feel right to YOU.

Move to Smooth Part 2

If you are comfortable doing each action smoothly on its own, now is the time to start on the advanced stuff. You want to bring the separate actions together so that you are trail braking as you start setting up the turn. You have probably heard about trail braking already and how it is supposed to improve your lap times, but that is not what I am talking about here. I am trying to show you the way to stop fork bobbing that happens when you let off hard braking and the forks come up only to dive back down as the centrifugal force in the turn gets added to the weight of the front of the bike. To ride smooth, you want to reduce the braking load as the lean goes on so that the fork movement doesn’t change direction. For a curve where you need to slow down significantly, the forks will be most compressed under braking, rising a little getting into the turn and more as the power is fed in from the apex. It’s the unload and load up action bobbing the front end that unsettles the bike and makes it wriggle instead of settling cleanly into the turn.

The amount of front brake you can use at moderate lean angles is surprisingly high. Racers use this to brake later, but that is not what I am trying to get across here.

Work on eliminating the fork bobbing by tailing off the brake and merging it into setting your lean. Get it right and you suddenly find things have smoothed out and are almost in slow motion. Beautiful. Using the end bit of braking to adjust your entry point and speed is a luxury you never had before.

To become an advanced motorcycle rider you need to get this right and master the tricky moves like a tight left followed immediately by an even tighter right. When you can’t set it up by adjusting your line through the left-hander enough to ease the right turn, then you have to brake in between. Pulling the bike up, braking hard and laying it down the other way, all in a matter of moments, is an art that will take time to acquire. The payoff is much more agility on the street or on the track. On the street you can react fast to new hazards, changing speed, position and line confidently so as to avoid trouble. On the track you can make a quick flowing sequence out of moves that before were bitty and disjointed. You won’t look quicker but you will be lapping faster.